Ludwig van Beethoven is a fixture in the career of the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim: “Beethoven’s music is universal, no matter where you are in the world – it speaks to all people.” Before his thirtieth birthday, Barenboim had made legendary recordings of all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and concertos. That said, he has also not shied away from the composer’s less frequently played works, those less liked by audiences and critics alike; on the contrary, he has approached them with great passion. At a guest performance in February 1995 in the Philharmonie, therefore, it was no surprise that the Triple Concerto and the Choral Fantasy were on the programme, with Barenboim playing both the piano and conducting, and supported by his famous colleagues Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma on violin and cello respectively.
Beethoven composed the Choral Fantasy in 1808 as the finale to a truly gargantuan concert which had already featured his fifth and sixth symphonies, three movements from the C major Mass, a concert aria and the Fourth Piano Concerto. Right at the end he intended all of the orchestral and vocal forces to join together as one in a “Fantasy on the Piano, eventually culminating in the entry of the entire orchestra, as well as the chorus, in a grand finale”. Beethoven himself played the piano at the premiere and had to improvise the long solo introduction, as he had not finished the composition on time. The result is a fascinating mixture of symphonic and vocal music that paves the way to the jubilant finale of his Ninth Symphony.
The Triple Concerto too goes beyond Classical genre limits when the orchestra is faced by a veritable chamber music ensemble in the form of a trio comprising piano, violin and cello. For Barenboim this was a “very exciting experiment in sound,” which according to the Berliner Zeitung was a resounding success on this occasion, as “the Triple Concerto developed a breathtaking and playful firework display that developed slowly and was ignited by Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Yo-Yo Ma (cello), who elicited from their priceless instruments opulent sounds of the highest quality.”